Lebanon’s Ambivalent Path Forward

Lebanon is coming to terms with the horrific explosion in Beirut earlier this week. Aid is pouring into the nation from every direction. Old allies, and even old enemies are joining in the effort.  The explosion has focused international attention on Lebanon for the moment, and the world is beginning to see how mismanaged, and corrupt the Lebanese government has become. Granted, Lebanon has always had to deal with this to one extent or another, but in recent years the levels of graft, and negligence have skyrocketed. The Lebanese people are seeking a solution and are not confident one can be found within their government. This was evident on Thursday night as anti-government protests flared up outside of the parliament building in Beirut. Fires were set, stores vandalized, and clashes with security forces broke out. Last night could be an indication of larger unrest to come in the future unless the Lebanese government can convince the people that it is committed to being the solution instead of the problem.

France has wasted no time in coming to Lebanon’s side in support. Less than 24 hours after the explosion French aid was arriving in Beirut and French president Emanuel Macron arrived in the city yesterday. French ties to Lebanon run deep so Macron’s arrival, and France’s swift response come as no surprise. The role that Paris will take in the near future remains to be seen. Macron is calling for politicians in Lebanon to come together and bring about change. In short, Macron is demanding reform, as are many other regional, and Western governments.

Lebanon’s people simply want change. A petition calling for Lebanon to fall under French mandate received the signatures of 50,000 Lebanese. This is indicative of the festering mood in the country and the populace’s almost complete lack of confidence in their government. The people want change, and if it is to come from the outside so be it. A dangerous message. Doubly so in uncertain times like these.

Tuesday 20 September, 2016 Update: UN Suspends Aid Convoys In Syria

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After a UN aid convoy was hit by an airstrike while on its way to Aleppo, the UN has decided to suspend all aid shipments in Syria. The fragile seven-day ceasefire that had been brokered by the US and Russia is over and neither side is confident it can be salvaged. An effort will be made, however, for appearances sake at the very least. At the moment it is unclear if aircraft that struck the convoy were Syrian or Russian, though for the moment it is likely that they were Syrian. Casualties were heavy with at least 12 drivers and aid workers known dead and at least a dozen others injured.

Syria has directly and indirectly become a major topic in the US presidential campaign. The refugee question is addressed by the Trump and Clinton camps on a regular basis. Hillary Clinton supports a large increase in the number of Syrian refugees without an effective plan to screen the incoming waves of people. Donald Trump, for his part, is firmly against admitting any more refugees from nations ‘compromised by terrorism.’ The attacks in New York, New Jersey, and Minnesota over the weekend suggest that Trump’s plan is more likely to weed out possible terror suspects before they set foot on US soil.

Refugees aside, whoever wins the election in November will be faced with an entanglement like no other in Syria. By January, 2017 the United States may have to accept that its long term goal of removing Bashr al-Assad from power is no longer possible. Like it or not, the Syrian president is going to factor into postwar Syria one way or another. The new US administration will also need to craft a new, effective military and political strategy for Syria. One that defines US goals and national interests. At the moment, US policy continues to be ill-defined moves in response to the actions of the other major players in the Syrian conflict.

In other words, the initiative has been lost and it doesn’t seem likely that it will be regained before the next president takes office.